The Duchess (Montgomery/Taggert 16) - Page 74

Trevelyan was no longer laughing. He got up from the chair and went to the basin to wash his face. “You little prude,” he said. “There are many religions and Sufism is just one of them. Leatrice and Kincaid are as married as any two people can be.”

“And what does that mean? That they’re as married as two people can be?”

“Just what I said. In some places marriage is a very flexible thing. The ways of the Western world would seem absurd to the people in those places. The very idea of staying married to one person forever is ridiculous.” He dried his face, walked to the big wardrobe along one wall, and opened it. Claire had never seen inside it. It was filled with boots: soft boots, stiff boots, leather boots, painted boots, embroidered velvet boots.

“Oooooh,” Brat said and came off the bed to stand by him.

Trevelyan looked down at her with an adoring smile.

“May I try them on?”

“You may do anything you like,” he said in a caressing voice.

“Stop it!” Claire half shouted. “She’s a child.”

Trevelyan pulled a

pair of boots from the wardrobe and sat down to put them on. “In some countries a fourteen-year-old girl is considered too old for marriage. Men like to get them young; then they can raise them to be the way they want them to be. If a man wants a woman who contradicts everything he says and tells him he’s wrong at every turn he can raise her to be that way.” He lifted one eyebrow at Claire. “I’ve not heard of a man wanting those traits in a wife, but then I’ve seen some strange things.”

He pulled on a boot. “Could you explain something to me? Before you knew that I was Captain Baker, you couldn’t say enough good about him. I heard he was a great man, that the world owed much to him. I heard that you believed that Captain Baker and only Baker could get into Pesha, that no other man was man enough to get into the city. But now that you know that I am Baker, I can’t seem to do anything to please you. My drawings, which you once loved, you now hate. You no longer seem to think my books are enlightened—now they’re too dirty for your precocious little sister to read, and you think that being a Master Sufi isn’t enough to enable me to perform a simple marriage ceremony.”

She looked away from him, for all that he said was true. “Heroes aren’t real,” she said at last.

He put on the second boot and stamped his foot to the floor. “Oh, I see, now I’m a bloody hero.”

“Don’t curse in front of my sister.”

He moved to stand in front of her, glaring down at her. “I’ll bloody well curse any bloody time I want to. You’re the one who wanted Lee married to Kincaid and I did it for you. I got them there and locked them in together. I even crawled through the attic and pulled up their clothes using a hooked pole. I’m the one who arranged it all, yet you can’t even say thank-you to me. All you can do is complain.”

When Claire didn’t say anything, just stood there with an obstinate look on her face, Trevelyan walked to a chest and threw back the lid. He rummaged inside for a moment, then withdrew a sheaf of papers. “If you’d rather that Leatrice wasn’t married by a Master Sufi, what religion would you prefer?”

He pulled a few papers from the portfolio. “An English religion? Here are certificates saying I’m qualified to perform services in four English religions. Or would you prefer an American religion? American certificates are the easiest to obtain. All you do is tell someone that you have the ‘call’ and you’re considered one of them.”

He tossed several pieces of paper at her feet, then looked back at the portfolio. “Or would you like a religion from India? Arabia? I have several African religions. Their certificates are rather interesting. One of them is written on bark and two are on animal skin. I don’t think you’d like me to tell you what they used for ink.”

He tossed the rest of the papers on the floor at her feet and looked at her. “Are those enough religions for you? Do I seem qualified to perform a marriage ceremony now?”

She looked down at the papers, not stooping to touch them, then back at his eyes. “But you don’t believe any of them,” she said softly.

Trevelyan’s eyes blazed. “I believe all of them.”

She could only glare at him. “You made Harry look like a fool,” she spat at him. “You knew Harry wouldn’t want to go against his mother.”

“Is that what’s bothering you? It doesn’t take much to make Harry look like a fool.”

She raised her hand to slap him at that, but he caught her wrist and for a moment he held it as his eyes locked with hers. Her heart was pounding in her throat.

He tossed her arm from him as though he were throwing something away. “Get out of here. I don’t know why I thought you were different. You’re the same as all of them. You like to read my books, you like to hear of other lands and their strange, quaint customs, but when it comes down to it you’re as corseted as all the other ladies.” He made the last word sound filthy.

“That’s not true,” she whispered. “I believe in what Captain Baker has seen and done. I think he—”

“Not him. Me. I am Captain Baker. He’s not a hero. He’s a flesh-and-blood man who loves and hates and…and likes boots and pretty girls no matter what age they are and—” He cut himself off and looked away from her. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. “Go on, get out of here. I need to do some work. Tell Leatrice to find herself a…” He swallowed. “A man with a real, true, sanctioned-by-God religion to marry her, tell her that a marriage performed by an unbeliever isn’t any good.” When he looked back at her, his eyes were blazing. They were so hot that Claire took a step backward. “Don’t come here again. I don’t want to see you again.”

Claire could only nod. Without a word, she put out her hand to Sarah Ann, who was standing behind her. Sarah took her sister’s hand and walked out with her, through Trevelyan’s writing room, then down the stairs to the outside.

“He’s not like anybody else in the world, is he?” Brat said when they were outside.

“No,” Claire whispered, “he’s not.”

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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